I hate talking about burnout. I hate hearing about it, reading about it, thinking about it. Every time I see a post from a streamer or content creator lamenting their first day of burnout while (usually) working substantially less than me for a much shorter period of time than I have, my eyes just roll. “We need to remove the stigma of burnout and make it safe to talk about again!” Agrees a group of people whom have never had any reason to not feel comfortable sharing their experiences with burnout – considering that consensus has been around for years and years. And yet, here I am. Burned, out. But in reality, I’ve probably been in burnout for a long time. As a creative, especially a neurodivergent one, how do you even identify where you stray from the “norm” if your normal doesn’t remotely represent anyone else’s? I still pull long hours, longer than most anyone trying to stick to a “9 to 5” lifestyle. I still have insane amounts of content output compared to even some creatives with entire teams running their operation. And yet, I do not think I have ever been this burned out in a long time. When did it start? Was it the grind that was “Techtober” right on the heels of tearing down my shed, moving everything into the new one and renovating my studio, which was right on the heels of going to an out of town convention in August, which followed months of financial instability? Did it start back in January when I thought I’d finally found my groove making highly-produced content with custom jingles and tons of effort, only to have my inspiration squashed by a group of product fan-boys, a toxic PR rep, and a faux medical professional streaming “coach” deciding to use their public platform to spread lies about my work? Did it start when my kid was born and I had 6 months of barely sleeping or functioning while still trying to run a streaming-focused YouTube channel right at the start of the streaming boom as we entered the pandemic? Or did it start when my unfettered ADHD landed me juggling full-time college courses, radio & broadcasting internships, running my YouTube channel, working for a MCN, trying to compete professionally in Halo despite aging fast, and building the relationship with my then-girlfriend-now-wife? It’s impossible to know. This is part of why I can’t stand talking about it. Life as a worker in modern capitalism is just a constant cycle of experiencing burnout and finding ways to move on, anyway. It’s everywhere. Burnout is something most people (in the working USA) probably deal with on a daily, or near-daily basis. It’s why drinking is so rooted in our culture, it’s why people seek out other mind-altering drugs (legal or otherwise). It’s why so much of our population is addicted to coffee or energy drinks. It’s why the “wine mom” trope exists. So many people spend every day of their lives just trying to cope with existence and make it to the end, or until they can get the next hit of their vice. Burnout isn’t special, it isn’t monumental, it’s not something we need to draw attention to constantly or have a community outpouring of support for. It’s just part of life. It is real and it can be debilitating; but most of the people who get so burned out that they have to post about it regularly because it’s that disruptive to their work seem to refuse to develop healthy prevention strategies and coping habits, or otherwise lack a support system entirely and thus only have the likes of Twitter to vent their feelings. We shouldn’t celebrate that.
And yet, in this moment, burnout feels particularly unique. It feels physical. Unlike depression or illness or other physical roadblocks I tend to run into, I’m otherwise functional. Be it due to my ADHD, “drive” or something else, I actually want to do things. Instead, every minor point of friction in the process suddenly makes doing those things uninteresting. Want to actually do my job? Project A is waiting on a replacement sample from company. Project B requires a ton of setup and filming and I’m not ready to tackle that yet. Project C is waiting on an OBS update to fix something. Project D... Want to work on my side channels? Somehow needing to capture the most basic of screen caps to finish the edit or even making a damn thumbnail just means I don’t want to. But I have to be productive. I want to get things done. Trying to dredge through the tedium usually means I can make one tiny step’s worth of progress at a time, but it physically feels like I can’t do it. My brain feels like it turns to stone. My muscles feel like they’re actively pulling against me as my eyes lose focus. I can’t. Trying to express myself in other creative ways also seems to fail, as I don’t particularly have the internal visual stimuli to try turning this energy into art. Despite always wanting time for art, and this “break” would be the perfect time for it! Too bad you can’t really schedule creative inspiration. When the neurons fire in the right alignment and I can effectively “give up” on the day’s work, video games do satisfy my energy. I often go literal months without gaming because I can’t stop working or digging down rabbit holes to get hooked in a game for very long, so perhaps it’s best to ride the wave of wanting to play Halo with the Discord peeps every night for a while. I know I’ll miss it when suddenly it doesn’t feel like something I want to do one day. If only video games worked every time. Some nights, like tonight, I try playing Halo or another game I’m typically losing time in, and I just keep feeling like I’m being physically pulled back to “work.” As if someone has a tractor beam pulling my face away from the game and towards my main screens. Back and forth. Write a little HTML, click some heads. Poke around at a video thumbnail, click some heads. Neither feels particularly satisfying, but I can’t stay focused on either task individually.
And what even is “work” anymore? Burnout is especially fun when you’re 15 years into your hobby-turned-career and barriers between “free time” activities and “work” have eroded or never existed in the first place. Everything is about building my online persona and contributing towards my work or experience and background learning for work in some way. Which means even my breaks are working and nothing can be enjoyed as leisure on its own. When you’re told to “go do something else for a while” when you’re burned out or unmotivated, but all of your “something else” interests lead back to the same place... it feels like being in a Scooby Doo hallway where every door leads back into the hallway somehow.
I’m stuck in the hallway.